Dear Mitch McConnell,
Have you ever read ‘A Man for All Seasons’, the play by Robert Bolt?
It’s about Sir Thomas More, the 16th century English statesman and philosopher, specifically about his struggles with his own conscience in his capacity as advisor to and Lord High Chancellor for Henry VIII.
I ask because there is a moment in that play which I wish you had read, because I believe it might have been a warning to you this week.
It is a discussion between More and his son-in-law, Roper, about whether to arrest a man named Richard Rich. Roper would like him arrested, and More replies that Rich has committed no crime, saying that he (More) would let the Devil himself go free if he had not committed a crime.
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes, what would you do? Cut a great road through the law to go after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, all the laws being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
This week, Mr. McConnell, you destroyed the Senate’s filibuster rule for Supreme Court appointments. As I understand it, you are now preparing to do the same for all legislation.
I know that the filibuster, like any tool, can be used for ill: it can be used for blind obstructionism and grandstanding (well you know this, Mr. McConnell, for you have used it this way). The filibuster, when abused, allows for the tyranny of the minority, and tyranny of any kind is harmful.
But not all tyrannies are equally harmful, and the tyranny of the minority is less fearsome than the tyranny of the majority; the filibuster protects against the tyranny of the majority. It encourages compromise and discourages polarization. It blunts extremism and forces cooperation. In these ways, it is good for the country.
“Breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American. I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts.”
– Minority-leader Mitch McConnell in 2013, about Harry Reid eliminating the filibuster.
Perhaps you don’t believe that, Mr. McConnell; perhaps you believe that the more power accrued to your side, the better. That would not be such an evil thought, Mr. McConnell: if you believe truly that you are right, then why shouldn’t you wish that your side be able to pass laws unobstructed by a troublesome minority? If that is the case, then, please, Mr. McConnell, listen to Sir Thomas More.
Because you’ll be in the minority again, Mr. McConnell. One day, whether in two, four, eight, or sixteen years, the great wheel will turn again, and your party, your principles, your values, will hold fewer seats. You will be no more or less right than you are today, but you will be less powerful.
And where will you hide then, Mr. McConnell, the filibuster having been cut down? As you slowly destroy the rules and customs which protect the minority, do you ever trouble yourself to remember that people treat others as they themselves have been treated?
You are teaching a whole generation how to treat a political minority, Mr. McConnell. You are teaching them to cut down every rule, disregard every protection, disdain every view but their own, in order to achieve what they want.
Today, you have the majority and you have used it to deprive the minority of their voice. But in life only one thing is certain: this too shall pass. That majority was given to you by the people and people are fickle. It will be you in the minority one day, Mr. McConnell, and do you really think that you will be able to stand up in the wind that blows then, when the people blow against you?
I don’t think you will.